One of these days, there will be an “internet of things” — once-dumb appliances and gadgets smartened up with chips and internet connectivity. Wireless chip maker Atheros Communications believes that day is not so far away.

Today, the San Jose maker of wireless chips is announcing an initiative that will make it easy for internet-aware home appliances to transfer data over electrical wires in the home to a user’s web-connected devices and to the smart grid. This initiative is one of the enabling steps to putting smart appliances on the grid without spending money to wire them with traditional Ethernet-based wiring.

“There will be 100 internet-connected devices per home one day,” said Adam Lapede, senior director of internet of things technology at Atheros, in an interview.

It’s kind of a pipe dream, but it’s a big one that is shared by a lot of companies that want to make everyday appliances smarter, more useful in providing data feedback, and more energy efficient. Atheros has chosen to connect the smart appliances using the HomePlug Green Phy, or a version of the HomePlug AV standard for transferring internet data over home electrical wires.

Atheros, which is in the process of being acquired by Qualcomm, designed the technology so that smart appliances can transfer or receive internet data without consuming a lot of power or taking much of the available internet bandwidth of the home wires, Lapede said. Once connected, these devices will be readable, recognizable, locatable, and addressable. It means they will be able to provide information such as how much energy they are consuming and what times are best to use them preserving energy.

“We need to figure out how to reduce the demand during peak usage and improve our efficiency,” Lapede said.

Lapede said the cost of internet connectivity is getting smaller and smaller. Atheros, which makes Wi-Fi chips and other related technology, hopes to drive the costs of the connectivity chips even lower by making them in huge quantities and standardizing them across the industry

With the HomePlug Green Phy technology, Atheros is asking software developers to begin building applications that will use its chip hardware for the “internet of things” vision that would integrate the technology into stand-alone gateway devices or into the appliances themselves. It will allow the transfer of data from device to device at a rate of 10 megabits a second or more. That will happen seamlessly, without the need to translate the data from one format to another.

Lapede said that applications will have to use built-in encryption and other security methods to ensure that one neighbor won’t be able to hack another across the smart grid. Lapede said the power line technology has rivals, but he believes it is the best way to reach all of the appliances in the home. And while HomePlug AV has a number of rivals, he says chips based on the standard have shipped in the tens of millions of units worldwide. So it makes sense to adapt HomePlug for the internet of things.

Once the applications have been defined and requirements set, Atheros will design chips based on the standard and ship them to customers in the coming years.

“We expect to see traction in 2012,” Lapede said.


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